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Jewish women’s contribution toward a better world

6th International Bet Debora Conference of European Jewish women activists, academics, rabbis, and cantors February 12 – 15, 2013 in Vienna…

Vienna’s Jewish Community historically included people who had moved there from all parts of the Hapsburg Monarchy and made their contributions to business, culture, science, and politics, to the Wissenschaft des Judentums as well as to Jewish art and culture. A substantial part of these accomplishments can be attributed to Jewish women. The golden age of Jewry in Vienna came to a catastrophic end when it was annihilated in the Nazi period, along with the knowledge about Jewish women’s contributions. Today, Vienna’s postwar Community has been able to reconsolidate—thanks not least to the work of Jewish women.

Because of its historic role and Austria’s political position, Vienna’s function continues to be that of a political and cultural bridge; a role that has become stronger since the fall of communism. In the process, Vienna has become a center of international exchange on opportunities for developing civil society in Eastern Europe. The 6th International Bet Debora Conference in Vienna seeks to be a platform for Jewish women from across Europe to meet and exchange ideas.

The topic of the conference: “Tikkun olam”—“Healing the world.” Jewish women’s contribution toward a better world

This ethical concept of Judaism refers to the responsibility we have for this world: be it for creating social justice, working toward gender equality, engaging in interreligious and intercultural dialogue, rapprochement between East and West, or protection of the environment. The conference in Vienna will pursue the question of what Jewish women have contributed in the past, how they can shape the future of the Jewish community in a positive way, and which contribution they can make toward a better world.

Our goal is to discuss from a Jewish women’s perspective our responsibility for “healing the world.” Which sources from our tradition can we draw upon and what are the practical consequences for each individual woman and for Jewish communities? Our purpose is to initiate debates within our communities and to bring about changes. We would like to look at current discussions about equal opportunity and social justice from a Jewish perspective, and also introduce Jewish positions on these topics into society in general. The focus of the conference is on the exchange of ideas between women from Western Europe and Eastern/Southeastern Europe.

This Call for Papers addresses Jewish women who are active either within the Jewish Communities, in initiatives, groups, and networks, or as Jewish women in society in general, as well as women rabbis, cantors, and scholars.

The contributions should take up the following questions:

– What responsibility do today’s Jewish women bear for society’s current problems—be they in the realms of politics, the environment, education, the women’s movement, medical ethics, etc.? In what ways do the new political conditions in Europe entail special challenges for Jewish women? Are Jewish women contributing their own points of view on, for example, questions such as multicultural societies, Jewish-Islamic dialogue, fundamentalism, immigration policy, racism, and anti-Semitism?

– What is the situation of women active in Jewish Communities in Europe today? In which fields are they active politically, socially, or as educators? What is their status? How much recognition do they receive in comparison with men? Which relationships to mainstream, non-Jewish, society do they create? What are the differences between the “old” Western European and the “newly emerging” Eastern and Southeastern European communities?

– How much definitional power do women enjoy in Judaism? To what extent can they influence Jewish educational content, for example? To what extent do they express their own opinions on general topics that affect them directly as Jewish women—for example human ethics (abortion, legal status of the embryo, etc.), diet (kashrut and ecology), family (Jewish marital law, divorce, and mamzerim), education, and child-raising? To what extent are Jewish women’s voices heard in the existing structures of authority? To what extent do Jewish women listen to each other’s voices?

– What does Jewish tradition say about topics such as social justice, equal opportunities, or ecology? What do the rabbinic writings say? Which important Jewish women have taken up these topics? To what extent did their work also influence the Jewish Communities and mainstream non-Jewish society?

– How can we as women implement our ideas and aspirations concretely in the Jewish Communities? How can we as women lay claim to our right of political participation? How can we make use of the various Jewish Community bodies? What role do independent women’s initiatives, groups, associations, and networks play? The conference will feature discussions and lectures on these questions as well as workshops on capacity-building and community-building.

These topics shall be discussed in lectures, workshops, and round tables, as well as in panel discussions. Presentations should be no longer than 10 to 15 minutes; their purpose is to trigger discussions.

Practical workshops on capacity-building and empowering women, in particular in the fields of Community organization, education, active participation in and shaping of religious life, as well as other topics of the conference are also welcome.

Please submit abstracts in English or German. Abstracts should describe the planned contribution (workshop, shiur, presentation, lecture, etc.) in 150 to 250 words. Please submit a brief bio and your contact information as well.

Submit to: bet-debora(at)gmx.at by September 14, 2012.
A limited amount of financial support (travel and accommodation costs) is available.

Please direct any questions to: bet-debora(at)gmx.at